‘Tis the Season!
..to be stressed. For a multitude of reasons.
Yes, there’s the holidays, but there’s also finals, daylight savings, the end of the calendar year, etc.
It’s the perfect storm.
According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), 64% of people with a mental health condition report that their symptoms worsen in the last two months of the year. A staggering statistic for what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.
Let’s explore why that is, and dive into a few methods that will help you end the year merry and bright.
Why Am I Stressed Right Now?
By “right now,” I mean early December, when this post was originally published.
There’s a lot going on at the moment for students, parents, athletes, and everybody in between. Let’s start with the obvious and outline the relationship between school and stress:
For many students, mental health is deeply intertwined with grades. This could be a result of pressure they’ve placed on themselves, or expectations from parents. This stress is exacerbated towards the end of the calendar year, as students have final exams and semester-long projects due.
At the same time, stress associated with the holiday season is building.
Maybe you are worried about affording Christmas gifts.
Maybe this is your first holiday season without a loved one.
Maybe the thought of seeing and entertaining extended family makes you wish a blizzard would come through.
There are plenty of other reasons you might be stressed about the upcoming holidays, but you are not alone in your experience.
If you’re feeling more lethargic and anxiety-prone than usual, another contributing factor is the way sunlight hours have changed this time of year.
Natural light and spending time outdoors can have a significant impact on mental health, but when daylight savings kicks in, the sun sets much earlier and it also tends to be colder outside. Although this may seem trivial, the changing of the seasons has a proven correlation with mood.
Any of these factors could be the reason for increased stress this season, so let's look into how to address these challenges
When it comes to the holidays. It’s likely you're going to feel pulled in many different directions. Different sides of the family are often competing for attention, not to mention other celebrations such as office Christmas parties and “Friendsgivings.”
While well intended, this onset of invitations can be overwhelming- watching your calendar fill up over what’s ~supposed~ to be a break definitely seems counterproductive.
It can be difficult to say no and turn down invitations, especially when they are coming from people we care about, but it is important to keep your long-term health and wellness in mind.
One way to do this is by setting priorities and entering the holiday season with a game plan. This way, when the inevitable onslaught of Christmas Cards and Calendar invites start rolling in, you already know which ones you’re looking for.
Whether it’s family, friends, your significant other, or yourself, focusing on the things that matter most is what this time of year is all about. Everyone has their own priorities, and will understand when you set boundaries to protect your own!
Grades and Mental Health
If you’re a student, one of your priorities towards the end of the year is likely making it through final exams. The anticipation and preparation for these tests and projects can consume a lot of time, leading to late nights, long days, and increased screen time.
Unsurprisingly, all of these factors by themselves can increase stress levels. When combined, it’s no wonder that students dread the end of the semester!
While learning is certainly important, it is critical to also recognize the value of your mental health during this time. More likely than not, your friends and classmates are experiencing the same feelings as you are.
Normalizing conversations around stress, rather than glorifying the grind of all-night study sessions, will open the doors to both support and accountability.
The amount of sleep you get can have a significant impact on test performance, so identifying a group of people that will help you maintain a balance between academics and health is one of the most overlooked study tools. Additionally, social connection helps keep spirits high and can make you feel less alone in the struggles you’re going through.
Didn't get the test scores you were hoping for? It's not the end of the world! Check out our blog post about resiliency for tips on bouncing-back stronger than before.
When the days get shorter and colder, it is important to implement strategies that keep energy and happiness levels high. These strategies can be implemented year-round, but should be intentionally incorporated during fall/winter.
During this time of the year, many people see an increase in depressive symptoms such as mood swings, lethargy, fatigue, and social withdrawal. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a more severe form of this condition that affects around 3% of the population.
These symptoms are caused by the decrease in sunlight during the winter months, which not only disrupts the body’s internal clock but also increases melatonin levels (causing lethargy) and decreases serotonin (causing mood swings).
Thankfully, there are many tried-and-true methods to prevent a Blue Christmas, and we’ve compiled a list for you here:
Get as much natural light as possible
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep
Maintain a balanced diet
Stick to a regular exercise routine
bKYND to yourself!
As you can see, most of these are generic healthy habits that should be implemented year-round. However, it is especially important to recognize why you might feel your mood shifting this time of year, and know how to intentionally care for yourself!
Mindfulness and Gratitude
Self-care can look different for everybody, but focusing on your mindset should be an important part of any routine. Amid the chaos of Christmas shopping, family gatherings, or traveling for the holidays, take time to practice gratitude and appreciate the busyness of this season.
Starting, or ending, each day with practices such as journaling can give you the opportunity to take a step back. While things might seem stressful in the moment, reflecting on the day’s events can offer a new perspective.
Additionally, practicing mindfulness allows you to recharge and prepare for the day ahead!
Another part of shifting your perspective is letting go of expectations. No matter how prepared (mentally, emotionally, and physically) you are for the holiday season, many things are still going to be out of your control. It is important to recognize this fact, and be able to appreciate each day for what it is.
Focus on the positive in every situation, and practice gratitude even when things don’t go as planned. By doing so, you will have a happier, healthier end to your year!
Whether your stress is stemming from finals, spending time with family, or anything else, you’re not alone. Many people experience increased anxiety this time of year, and it’s important to recognize what we can do to address it!
Don’t be afraid to express your feelings and set boundaries with others in order to prioritize your health and happiness. Accept what you cannot control, and practice gratitude through any challenges that come your way.
I hope you find this advice helpful throughout the holiday season…
Health and Wellness to all, and to all a good night!